Postponing your search until later in the spring might add thousands of antler inches to your shed collection
Much of life is about timing. Being in the right place or making the right move at the correct time. Searching for shed antlers is no different, and that’s why I believe it’s time we start waiting longer to hit the woods in search of cast crowns.
Past vs. Present
I used to do almost all of my shed hunting in late February. I found lots of antlers, too. However, it seems deer are holding their headgear longer in recent years. I only found three antlers during the winter of 2019, making it by far my worst shed season ever. But I think I started too early, in late February, and finished too early, too, in early March.
With four farms to search, I was walking the last one on March 2, 2019, and I stepped into a cornfield where I saw five 8-pointers, a 6-pointer and a 4-pointer, all still carrying both sides. I never expected such a high percentage of deer to still be packing that late, but they were.
This year I decided to make some changes and wait until early March to begin my search. I left cameras up longer and relied more on them to gauge the antler drop. Many 1 ½- and 2 ½-year-old bucks carried antlers into early March. Most 3 ½-plus-year-olds dropped in mid- to late-February. By March 6, the lack of antlered bucks in trail cam photos led me to believe most white gold was on the ground. On March 7, I started searching for antlers during afternoons and weekends, and I wrapped up shed season the afternoon of March 16.
I used the onX “tracks” feature to record my movements. In all, I covered 82.46 miles on four separate properties. I searched ag fields, food plots and openings on an ATV – approximately 60 miles worth – and the rest was on foot. Interestingly, all the sheds I found this year were out in the open (ag fields, food plots, CRP, etc.) and spotted from the back of a four-wheeler. I didn’t find a single antler while on foot, inside cover.
The total mileage above might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. In order to find sheds, you must meticulously grid off tracts of land and search each section in passes. This is especially important outside of the heartland states of the Midwest. It takes large, concentrated pockets of deer to pick up a lot of antlers in a short time. You also must have access to properties that harbor dense populations – often called “yarding” – during the late- and post-season, when casting occurs.
I live in southern Kentucky, and while we have great deer hunting, neither of the above scenarios are as common here. Yarding still happens in late winter, but not to the degree that it does in Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and other midwestern states. In the South, hunters are likely to find two or three sheds in a (good) day. Not 20 or 30. I’ve gone miles and days without picking one up. It even happened this year. Two of the four properties I walked relinquished zero sheds. I found three on another property – one 64-inch shed to a target buck and an 8-point matched set. The final tract produced nine sheds, three of which belonged to target bucks I’ll likely chase this fall.
2020 Shed-Season Takeaways
I think hunting later was the key to increasing my shed find from three to 12. I covered 6.87 miles per shed to find them, but that’s actually common around here. Another lesson: I tend to find sheds in the same places from year to year, and the places where I don’t find sheds remain fairly consistent, season after season. Over time, this knowledge helps prioritize where to search.
Prioritizing is key. Personally, I know I’m going to walk the entirety of properties I have access to. Because of that, I start with the worst tracts or properties I think will relinquish the least sheds. Hopefully all antlers are on the ground at this point, but shed hunting through properties from worst to best allows more time for top target bucks to drop their antlers if they haven’t when you begin.
There are cons to waiting too long, though. More time on the ground means more time for squirrels, rabbits, coyotes and other shed hunters to pick them up before I do. It also allows for green vegetation to emerge and effectively conceal some sheds. Still, the reasons to wait outweigh the reasons to start early. If you’re searching for a particular target buck and watching him on trail camera, move in as soon as they drop. But if you don’t have photos, don’t assume that your target buck has shed by the end of February.
This year, the main buck I hoped to find was still carrying his crown on the afternoon of March 16. I know that because I bumped him and numerous other deer from a bedding area, and he was the only one still with antlers. He’s a 4 1/2 -year-old deer, and bucks of that age class are usually shed by February. I won’t have time to search that farm again this winter, and unless I unintentionally stumble upon his antlers this turkey season, I won’t find them. That’s disheartening, but maybe I’ll still kill the deer this fall. That’d make everything alright.
All things considered, I’ll likely alter my approach again for the 2021 shed season. Instead of starting around March 7, I’ll wait and begin around March 15-20, and wrap up around the end of the month. By that time, many are thinking seriously about turkeys — and maybe even hunting them — but for me, better prospects for white gold are worth the wait.
Click here and here to see some of the best sheds from this season.
And click here to see all of the really weird stuff I found while shed hunting. One of which was especially interesting.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.